It’s been a minute since a Facedown Records band caused substantial ripples in the underground, but leave it to Cultist to bring back the undeniable pedigree of Inland Empire deathcore. Like Christian-core luminaries Impending Doom or Sleeping Giant before them, it would be unwise to label Cultist’s debut album An Observation of Grief as merely a Christian alternative. Sure, the downtempo and beatdown influences are there, and appreciated, but these guys aren’t just doing Traitors for youth group kids. As displayed in their new album Slow Suicide, Cultist are more than capable of carving out their own space in West Coast heavy music.
Cultist makes a point to hit as hard as possible during Slow Suicide‘s 27 minutes, as the title track proves by sticking to the meat and potatoes—mosh parts and more mosh parts. It also pays to have some dissonant drones in the mix, achieving a compelling balance between the old and new schools of deathcore. Similarly, the tunnel throat “goblin vocals” that turn up in “Preacher III” mix in nicely with the barrel-chested bellows. As closed-hi-hat thuggery and match china-driven breakdowns leave plenty of room for tempo changes, the riffs blur the line between creepy and violent. Slow Suicide practically begs for firey condemnations of religious hypocrisy: “There’s no Christ in the cross you show.”
While a deathcore band in the end, Cultist displays some tasteful nods to beatdown territory. Take the groovy chuggy, almost slammy, riffs at play in “Memento Mori” for instance. These portions mingle with the string-bending, pick-scrapping goodness of “Hell Of My Design.” The cut offers adventurous syncopation and eerie dynamics, and still gives a cool switch-up from ultra-slow breakdown to stomping chugs. The vocals follow suit, intuitively transitioning from bottomed-out gutturals to the tough guy delivery.
Primal as it is, Slow Suicide does get a nice changeup with the three-count vibes of “Suffering By My Own Hand.” More than just an excuse to abuse triplet rhythms, the song almost takes on a Gojira vibe as transitions 4/4 to 3/4 make you want to rewind as soon as it ends. Speaking of transitions, Cultist clearly knows how to keep things low-and-slow, but not boring by any means. They know exactly when to push with an extra double kick in “Let Me Feel Everything,” or open the track up with some ominous modulations. Sure, it’s really about the mosh parts, but it takes a special band to achieve a haunting atmosphere or a tasty arrangement before giving people excuses to hit their friends.
Speaking atmosphere, “I Fear Your Silence” comes through with some layered soundscapes to deepen its tom-tom buildup. Cultist understands the importance of properly setting up a hard-hitting mosh part, or stripping back to a simple rock beat to contrast the mid-tempo deathcore. Fair enough, the hard-chugging march closer “Last Breath of a Dying God” doesn’t get over by reinventing the wheel. Fans of modern deathcore will find what they should expect, but the songwriting at play here is no laughing matter.
Call it an oxymoron if you want, but Christian-core’s ability to channel righteous indignation (often toward their own brothers and sisters in Christ) continues to yield music that’s not just keeping up with heavy music, but ready to tear through audiences like Jesus starting a riot in the temple.